Rick Ross has made a career for himself that’s surpassed expectations to the point of being miraculous. He has done so thanks to an insatiable hunger for success, a knack for churning out quality music, and an indispensable resilience—from real-life health concerns, to out-beefing the once-bulletproof 50 Cent, to even his recent return to the charts via an assist from Drake.
An attempt to accurately pinpoint what’s attributed to Ross being one of modern rap’s great underdog stories would unearth a larger than life persona, vivid use of imagery, and over-the-top braggadocio, all of which serve as salient escape devices for listeners. The result has been a character so well-defined that fans long ago decided to suspend disbelief in tagging along, especially after already ludicrous claims like having a kinship with Manuel Noriega were revealed to be even more ridiculous in light of Ross’ background as a correctional officer. Oft-delayed by the machinations that go into properly releasing big name albums, Port of Miami 2 further cements Ross as a mainstay among the aging elite—those rappers whose names now carry them further than their music does.
Playing it safe with the sequel to his far more ambitious debut LP, Ross regurgitates that which people have come to love from him, or at least have accepted as his standard. Opening with the album’s lead single “Act a Fool”, the MMG boss and his beneficiary Wale deliver yet another convincing replication of the keyboard-based, hyperactive tempos popularized by the crew and all of their peers over the past decade. Coasting with the paint-by-numbers rhythms and patterns that have played a sizable role in Ross’ repertoire, the bulk of Port of Miami 2 finds the rapper-turned-minor-mogul barely doing enough to keep his head above water. On “BIG TYME”—the second single—Just Blaze’s cinematic flair combined with energetic chants from Swizz Beatz sound dated (the beat was admittedly rejected by defunct supergroup Slaughterhouse), making for diminishing returns despite Ross delivering a compelling vocal performance.
Other missteps that may have been better suited as cutting room floor material include “Summer Reign,” a bizarre ode to romance driven by material purchases and perverse fetishes that represents a mindless attempt at siphoning energy from a preexisting hit; in this case, SWV’s “Rain” is minced. “White Lines” is a vapid tale of women infatuated with designer drugs in which Ross once again imagines himself as a debaucherous protagonist akin to Tony Montana. Neither a precautionary narrative nor one that sticks to its topic, things like a mention of fashionista and elite sneaker designer Virgil Abloh muddy what could have made for an otherwise captivating attempt at imaginative or fact-based storytelling. Smoothed-out vocals from Dej Loaf prove not to be a savior.
While it pales in comparison to catalog highlights such as the aforementioned Teflon Don, Rather You Than Me and 2009’s Deeper Than Rap, Port of Miami 2 isn’t without its bright spots altogether. “Turnpike Ike” is a new example of how new age boom-bap resurrector Jake One brings a grit that challenges Ross as a rapper, much like when they previously combined forces with Dr. Dre and Jay Z on 2012’s “3 Kings.” On an even more nostalgic note, composers J.U.S.T.I.C.E League make their return to the Maybach Music Group fold on “Vegas Residency,” as a typically swollen arrangement of live strings, guitar and piano that brings one of the best performances out of Ross, a temporary reminder of his advanced capabilities when he achieves perfect synergy with familial producers.
While Ross is generally compelling enough to stand on his own two feet, his choice of features for Port of Miami 2 neither distract from his visions nor add much to the greater picture. Hit or miss as anything attempted over the hour long set, an ominous posthumous Nipsey Hussle verse goes over well on “Rich Nigga Lifestyle,” while one time adversary Jeezy falls short of a good landing with a completely forgettable appearance on “Born To Kill”. Explosive wild card affiliate Gunplay brings an effortless flow chock full of bizzaro vulgarity to “Nobody’s Favorite,” but the song’s bare backdrop of nothing more than distant church bell chimes and trap drums makes for yet another confounding creative decision.
While his stories of struggle and grinding from nothing to the top still do resonate, Rick Ross is running in place, possibly lacking inspiration now that music has become a gateway to other ventures not limited to chicken wing chains. Ross employs a formula that’s carried him this far: he plays a lawless character over beats that traditional diehards wish Nas would take instead. But Port of Miami 2 shows that even the most beautiful of houses can feel empty inside.